‘To see it is to be it’: City Councilmember Nithya Raman speaks to upper school


Photo credit: Anna Entin

Juniors Rose Sarner and Charlotte Tragos facilitate the Q&A event with Councilmember Nithya Raman in the courtyard on Jan. 31. Raman spoke about her experience as an elected official and why she believes women should be leaders to Archer’s upper school.

By Lizette Gonzalez, Features Editor

Los Angeles City Councilmember Nithya Raman’s visit to Archer all began with junior Rose Sarner. Last summer, Sarner participated in Raman’s youth committee, and eventually, was the reason why she began to work with Archer’s Artemis Center for Public Service and Social Good. Due to Sarner’s involvement with Raman, the Artemis Center’s adviser Beth Gold, reached out to coordinate a panel.

“She’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be on the Artemis Center and I applied because of my interests in political advocacy that Nithya gave me,” Artemis Center board member Sarner said. “I told Ms. Gold and she was really adamant about getting her as a speaker because she is such a powerful woman and has paved the way — she has such an incredible story.”

Raman was elected to the city council in 2020 after defeating incumbent Councilmember David Ryu. Raman is an immigrant from India and an urban planner who has attended Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the Q&A event facilitated by Sarner and junior Charlotte Tragos on Jan. 31, Raman spoke to all of the upper school about her experience as an elected official, her journey to politics and why activism is important.

“I stepped up to run for office not because I’ve been planning it since I was a freshman in college, and not because it was always my plan to become a politician, but because I felt called to do this work,” Raman said during the panel. “My approach has been to think about the people we are not hearing from, because as an immigrant to America [and] as a woman of color, I often didn’t feel like it was my right to call for help from my government. I want to make sure we are building a city that isn’t just listening to the people who call in, but also from the people we are not hearing from.”

Tragos is also on the board of the Artemis Center, and said she was excited for students to hear from a woman in a position of power who makes legislative changes. She said she hopes Raman inspired students to become involved in activism and political engagement.

“The future of politics needs to be intersectional. Everyone needs to have someone they can look up to in positions like hers,” Tragos said. “If young girls from intersectional and marginalized backgrounds are passionate and interested in politics, seeing this as a possible route will break down systemic barriers that are in front of them.”

Her intersectionalism speaks to the idea of ‘to see it, is to be it.’ It’s important for students to hear from people of different backgrounds and especially a woman, who they can see as a role model. She represents diverse voices.

— Beth Gold, The Artemis Center's adviser

Sarner said Raman’s journey to politics is one many women can resonate with because of the many obstacles she faced. For Sarner, it was important to hear Raman speak about her challenges.

“She’s faced a lot of challenges and doubt from a lot of people in the world. I think what really amazes me is her ability to keep going,” Sarner said. “She beat an incumbent so she wasn’t expected to win, but she did. I think it’s really important for girls to hear that even though women are doubted a lot, they can create change, grow and succeed in life.”

Out of 18 elected officials in the Los Angeles City Council, only three are women. Raman said she’s faced challenges because of her gender and wants to see more women in office.

“It’s pretty hard to be a woman in a public space. Our policymaking in the city, the way we think about who deserves to thrive, the kinds of ways we set up our priorities — that’s suffered from not having enough women elected,” Raman said. “I feel like I have to put my credentials first in order for people to take me seriously as they would a man in a similar position. I often mention my degrees first when I talk to people, so they know that I know of what I speak, but I don’t feel like my male colleagues have to do the same thing.”

Tragos said it was important for the Artemis Center to bring in a speaker who is not only vocalizing change but enacting it as well.

We’re working with people who are newcomers in positions of power and with people who have dedicated their time and work to public service,” Tragos said. “Especially with people who are really working towards doing that they say they will and are creating a change in the community. I think that because she’s doing what she’s saying and is close to community members, is why we brought her in.”

After hearing from Raman, Gold hopes students see the importance of public service and will think about having an active role in their communities. She hopes students learn how they can intertwine their identity in their service by seeing Raman use personal experiences within her leadership.

“Ms. Raman is on the ground working on various issues and it’s important for students to see how are our elected officials addressing problems locally and globally,” Gold said. “We don’t often get a glimpse of the day-to-day workings of elected officials, and oftentimes, local politics affect people’s lives much more than national politics. I hope they get that glimpse of public service via her.”

During the Q&A portion of the panel, Raman said community is the main principle in activism and public service.

“Activism of any kind thrives when you have a sense of community,” Raman said. “Whatever issue you are passionate about, find your tribe, find your people and find the folks that you want to work with in order to push that vision forward. Make sure that you are establishing a sense of community. You cannot do it alone.”